Android update brings huge improvements to Nexus 5 camera: before and after images

The Nexus 5 arrived amidst sky-high expectations that Google would not only deliver top notch hardware in an extremely affordable smartphone, but also make this the first truly photographically capable Nexus smartphone. With an official tagline of “capture the moments that matter,” it’s clear that the camera was something Google worked on and we were pleased to learn that the company brings optical image stabilization in such an affordable package. Image quality was also surprisingly good, but there were nagging issues that spoiled the whole experience - the camera was frustratingly slow, the auto-focus roamed around and was particularly lazy, and exposures were not always spot-on.

Fast forward one month, and Google has not only recognized all these issues, but has already pushed a huge update that hugely improves the camera experience. It’s hard to believe what a dramatic change it makes. 

Quicker, much quicker

Google has managed to bring shooting speeds almost on par with the fastest smartphones out there and the Nexus 5 now feels snappy rather than slow. Not just that, the auto-focus now locks extremely quickly, roams less and is complemented with a very active face-tracking that helps better expose faces. Before the update, the Nexus 5 camera would easily prefer very long exposures, especially in low light, and that translated in more light getting in and above average results, but this also meant slower shooting speeds and also affected daylight camera speed. 

Now, after the update, Google has recognized that the camera was just too slow and in low light it now prefers shutter speeds that are consistently three times faster or more. In our own testing, this results in a quite significant increase in speeds. While previously starting the camera app and taking a picture took 4.1 seconds, now that's reduced to a way more reasonable 3.5 seconds. Taking an HDR+ picture is also a second quicker. Those much faster shutter speeds translate in the camera bursting ISO to very high values in low light (sometimes up to 800), making noise become much more visible. This takes a bit from the very clear detail the camera captured under low light before the update. For us, it's a trade-off worth making as it fits the main idea of mobile photography that is quick and on the go, plus it will better capture moving objects (like kids!) that people often shoot on their phone. Here is how the Nexus 5 (after update) shooting speeds compare to other popular smartphones.
Taking a pic Lower is better Taking an HDR pic (sec) Lower is better CamSpeed score Higher is better CamSpeed score with flash Higher is better
Nokia Lumia 1020 10
No data
Sony Xperia Z1 3.2
No data
LG G2 4
Apple iPhone 5s 3
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 2.7
No data
Samsung Galaxy S4 3.4
Google Nexus 5 3.5

Colors that pop

The actual images themselves have changed as well. Colors are boosted, more saturated in some images. This is not something we necessarily like as they look a bit unreal to us now, but the logic here seems to have been that many users prefer those more “popping” overblown colors. The change is particularly noticeable in the warm tonalities that are now much more pronounced.

The impressive HDR+ feature has also been slightly modified. HDR+ (short for high-dynamic range) differs from most traditional HDR implementations in having a more subdued dynamics, but very sharp, no-ghosting images. This has actually not changed, but we did get slightly different results with better exposure. Also, Google has added a little progress bar that shows live how the image is being processed and saved. HDR is traditionally a bit slower (the camera takes multiple shots rather than just one), but this progress bar helps the user understand how long exactly it will take whereas earlier you could not tell.

This is just one of a series of changes that Google promises to bring to its camera interface. The move is expected to be towards more intuitive controls in contrast to settings hidden in menus right now. We are also hopeful that Google will bring more manual controls to its app like ISO adjustment settings that are now missing.

What has not changed and needs to change is the frustrating electronic viewinder. The Nexus 5 captures native 8-megapixel images with an aspect ratio of 4:3, but the live preview shows a 16:9 image cutting out the top and bottom of what’s actually being captured. Needless to say, that’s a huge annoyance and makes it hard to properly compose your shot. Using other apps remedies that, but we hope Google fixes this in the stock camera app.

Right now, our Nexus 5 has received Android 4.4.2 straight from 4.4 (it did not go through 4.4.1), and it was a 54MB update the installed in just around 15 minutes. The official description of it reads: “This update improves the Nexus 5 camera with faster shooting (less shutter lag, less motion blur); faster, more accurate focusing; better white balance for truer colors; and more accurate exposures.” And that’s something we definitely see in the actual camera images.

Overall, it’s amazing how much Google has improved the Nexus 5 camera in a single software update. The lazy auto-focus has now become very quick, Google has added face recognition that works fast and is precise (shooting people was a problem on the pre-update Nexus 5 as it tended to overexpose faces and burn skin tone), and colors are now more saturated. Take a look at the images before and after and see the difference for yourselves.

Related phones

Nexus 5
  • Display 5.0 inches
    1920 x 1080 pixels
  • Camera 8 MP (Single camera)
    1.3 MP front
  • Hardware Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, 2GB RAM
  • Storage 32GB,
  • Battery 2300 mAh
  • OS Android 6.0 Marshmallow



36. networkdood

Posts: 6330; Member since: Mar 31, 2010

I got the Nexus 5, after selling my Captivate and RAZR on ebay for it - 349 is a great deal for it - when you consider the phone's specs and all, along with the price - it is an awesome value - add that to the fact that I am running it for 30.00 a month and 5GB of LTE data on T MO, and it is a steal - iphone and GN3 run 649 each, no contract. Unlock the bootloader and root it - get the hammerhead unbricked kernel for superb battery life. Not sure if this phone is considered top end, but you are only paying 349 for it. Why would you pay 649 to get an iphone 5S, as the iphone really is not much better than the Nexus 5? The only reason you need a case for the Nexus 5, is to protect the protruding camera lens. Sound is improved with the 4.4.2. Wife complains my phone is too loud now.

35. ialex123

Posts: 21; Member since: Dec 18, 2013

Great...and recently, i came across the article from, it has nice features..

34. bugsbunny00

Posts: 2267; Member since: Jun 07, 2013

auto awesome made it..

33. makoskn

Posts: 4; Member since: Sep 12, 2013

any word if they updated the battery efficiency with this update?


Posts: 99; Member since: Nov 28, 2013

Said it before. The screen on the N5? It needs work. Not good.

37. networkdood

Posts: 6330; Member since: Mar 31, 2010

The screen? Huh? Nothing wrong with it - great high quality resolution, especially when on Flixster or Netflix watching HD movies.

31. Davidparker

Posts: 10; Member since: Nov 04, 2013

how come s4 have 1016 camspeed score ?

28. kabhijeet.16

Posts: 895; Member since: Dec 05, 2012

PA.. Please compare the camera now with top end phones after update coz there is a remarkable difference between then & now

27. Furbal unregistered

Cant wait to get home and sideload this to my nexus 5

26. fay99

Posts: 118; Member since: Mar 16, 2012

This article didn't mention the compensation with this update! Google had boosted up the iso in order to speed up the camera. The iso used to be 100 with 4.4 and now is boosted to 1000 under the same environment. It would be helpful if this article also mentions pictures now have a lot more noise with the new cam. Take a pic at your friend beside you. You will see more scars and black dots appear on his/her white face. Details will be covered by the noise.

29. Victor.H

Posts: 1112; Member since: May 27, 2011

Thanks for bringing this up. The change in ISO behavior is not exactly from 100 to 1000, but it's definitely there and it's true that images are captured faster but in exchange for more noise. That noise however does look natural for a lack of a better word as it appears in low-lit environments mostly. It's true that detail suffers from that, but personally for me it's a trade-off worth making since the benefits of faster shutter speed are much greater and will help avoid blurry images.

30. fay99

Posts: 118; Member since: Mar 16, 2012

Sorry I haven't mentioned that it's a great review. Thanks Victor. Of course I didn't mean that it goes exactly from 100 to 1000, or I shouldn't confuse others that it has always changed from 10 to 1000. I do have a lot of indoor pictures taken under the same bright environment used to be 100 with 4.4, now had became 1000. At the end, it all depends on what pictures you are shooting. It's great if it's for a flying bird at a park outside as it's almost impossible with the old camera. However, the quality is really poor when you capture people standing still indoor and the trade-off wouldn't worth making for those who loves taking indoor pictures more

24. kwn0602

Posts: 6; Member since: Dec 10, 2013

Lol Update isn't available yet. Mine is unlocked nexus 5. From canada

20. sniper1087

Posts: 537; Member since: Dec 31, 2011

well lets see the nexus update fixed color reproduction and better HDR+, but details still the same, I guess I was expecting a little more, but theres only so much you can do with 8mp camera.

15. wolverinexmen9

Posts: 112; Member since: Mar 31, 2011

I haven't received the 4.4.2 update on my nexus 5 yet! Can someone tell me why I haven't got it?

19. TylerGrunter

Posts: 1544; Member since: Feb 16, 2012

Most of the people have not received it yet. Probably the journalist here have just flashed it to the phone. It will take at least 2 weeks to get to everyone. Or if you are eager yoiu can always flash it :)

14. papss unregistered

Still need to fix the battery. to me the time between charges on this thing are barely acceptable. I know price price price but battery is one of my top two things for a phone.

23. Doakie

Posts: 2478; Member since: May 06, 2009

I know this isn't any kind of consolation and honestly this idea wouldn't work for me because I work outdoors, but many people work inside. Have you tried picking up a few cheap Qi chargers? Leave one at home, one at work and install one in your car. As you move around plop the phone down for short periods of time. Topping off every once in a while might make a world of difference. Just an idea that might work for you.

13. Tuxedo

Posts: 356; Member since: Mar 19, 2013

Goes to show how important the SW really is and how the spec sheet is just part of the equation.

11. TuanGugu

Posts: 46; Member since: Jun 07, 2013

Compare the updated camera with LG G2 & Galaxy S4!

8. alipashang77

Posts: 15; Member since: Aug 28, 2012

Any way to bring the improvements to the Nexus 4?!?

2. techloverNYC

Posts: 601; Member since: Nov 20, 2012

Nexus 5 is looking better and better now. But now I get the the HTC one for the same price as the nexus 5 now. Anyone has any suggestion as which phone should I get?

3. Birds

Posts: 1172; Member since: Nov 21, 2011

I'd say the nexus 5. Overall, its a superior phone.

25. techloverNYC

Posts: 601; Member since: Nov 20, 2012

Yea that i agree with u. But theres r just something about the HTC one's speakers......

4. Eclectech

Posts: 363; Member since: May 01, 2013

the HTC One is still my favorite. It's the most unique of the high end phones that are out and the software works very well. It won't get updates as quick as the Nexus but HTC has been very responsive to new Android releases as of late. I had 4.3 a good six weeks before the Samsung GS4 got it.

16. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

I wonder if HTC is going to do a 4.4.2 release for the One that includes the camera improvements? The unlocked One has v. 4.4 in the U.S.

21. Commentator

Posts: 3723; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

I think the camera improvements are Nexus 5 exclusive. It really needed the update. At any rate, HTC hasn't included camera updates such as Photosphere in past upgrades, so I can't imagine they will this time either. ImageSense (or whatever they call it now), for better or worse, is their baby.

5. AfterShock

Posts: 4147; Member since: Nov 02, 2012

Nexus, for the hardware.

6. Nine1Sickness

Posts: 896; Member since: Jan 30, 2011

FYI, I purchased the nexus5 when it first came out and ended up returning the phone for a HTC one. Why? The nexus5's build quality is nothing near the build quality of the nexus4. LG cut so many corners on this phone to meet the $349 msrp and you can just tell by handling the phone. The camera was horrible, it took blurry pictures, it took forever after to snap a photo after pressing the button, the ois made it even worst. There was dust stuck in between the screen and glass, which bugged the hell out of me. I'm not even going to mention how bad the battery life is. My advice, go to the store and play with both of the phones then decide.

9. Izoe

Posts: 150; Member since: Sep 02, 2010

Have the nexus 5 myself and i must say it feels better in the hand than the nexus 4. As per the look of the phone, that's a matter of personal opinion. But i have to say the battery life is not horrible at all. i get a minimum of 15 hrs with 3hrs on screen time, about one hour of voice calls, about one hour of web and cant say exactly how much time I spend messaging, but it accounts for much of the 3hrs on screen time. at least 2 hrs of music. Bottom line, I have never had to charge it before getting home. In the beginning maybe but after charging and discharging the battery a couple of times(like you ought to), the battery really improved.

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